Missional Community Practices – Third Place

April 3, 2013 — 12 Comments

This series of posts provides an overview of each of the missional community practices we foster at The Austin Stone:

Third Place – Gathering as Missionaries

The third way we gather is as missionaries in a third place.

Up to this point, we’ve reoriented a typical small group with a family meal, and cultivated discipleship with the LTG. A third place is where a missional community becomes intentionally missional.

Unless we intentionally make time for people outside our community, we often won’t do it. Very few of us naturally drift into mission! What does it mean to obey Jesus and be a missionary?

Obedience means gathering for the sake of people who don’t know Jesus.

For us, it wasn’t enough to just serve together. Mission is about people, not projects. We must think through ways we can integrate people into our communities, not just serve them at arm’s length.

As we wrestled with this, we needed to create a third place – a place to introduce your lost friends to your community.

What makes a good place to invite people? We use three words to describe it:

  • Neutral
  • Natural
  • Regular

An effective Third Place is neutral ground that is informal and non-committal. It naturally fits into the rhythms of your lost friends lives, and we do it regularly.

So where do missional communities gather for a third place? It depends on the people you’re trying to reach. Ask the question, “where do people already spend time and naturally go? How can we gather there?”

For some of our downtown missional communities, this may be an after work happy hour. Downtown professionals naturally gather there after their workday. For some of our moms with younger kids, this might be a park where other moms and kids play throughout the day. My neighborhood gathers at our neighborhood restaurants on the weekends and at events at our school, so that’s where we go.

The Advantages of a Third Place

A third place creates space where someone can belong to before they believe. We want to do it regularly, and invite those who don’t know Jesus to participate often.

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

12 responses to Missional Community Practices – Third Place

  1. Hey Todd,

    What do you think of having more than one (but probably not more than two) regular ‘third-space’? Is that problematic or am I over thinking it?

    Thanks,
    -Daniel

    • Daniel,
      I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all! It probably depends some on the people who are a part of you MC, and the folks you’re trying to reach. I’d love more details!
      Todd

      • You’re correct- it’s very dependent on the people that are a part of my City Group (what they’re named at my church). We are a diverse group (singles, newly married, married with infants, married with several children, empty nesters, etc) so one specific thing (like meeting at a pub would have excluded too many people, while others would have made it something that is not a natural rhythm of life.

        I think I was just going by ‘letter of the law’ mentality rather than spirit (not that this is law, ha!) and just wanted to see if there were any reasons to find a corporate, single third space.

        Thanks for the reply!

        • Glad to hear you’re processing! We’ve had groups have three different third places, where two to four would gather regularly. It’s good to be flexible and the event serve the purpose, not be the objective in and of itself :).

  2. Todd, can you describe in more detail what your group “does” at a Third Place Gathering? Is it the idea of assimilating into the rhythm of those in your community who don’t know God? For the purpose of beginning relationships and sharing the gospel relationally (as you get to know people)? Classic evangelism that I learned growing up made it seem like it was not really of any gospel worth if I did not or someone did not share the gospel. Whether that meant standing on a table in the middle of the restaurant and sharing the gospel or attempting to do so with at least one person individually, it wasn’t truly “on mission” if I hadn’t shared the gospel with people verbally. So, how does this work out practically? What does it look like at one of your “Third Place” gatherings. One more ? Sorry to keep going :). Does this mean your people are attending 4 different activities (for lack of better word) in the week? Family Meal, LTG, Third Place, Sunday Gathering? If not, how often do you generally do these things? Thanks for your helpful articles, Todd.

    • Ryan,
      The Third Place is a precursor to evangelism…it’s the place where our lost friends can meet our Christian community. More often that not, it’s just a meal/hanging out, or gathering where people already are (like my kid’s school or the park).

      The idea of a Third Place is that it gives a place for someone who doesn’t know Jesus to know our community, and an opportunity to belong to our community. As Christians, we have normal conversations with them and with one another, but also talk about Jesus, and how His Word is changing us.

      On the practical side, usually the Third Place creates relationship, and an opportunity to talk about Jesus. Following those kind of conversations, if someone is interested in learning more, we invite them into a more investigative Bible Study that follows the patter of a Life Transformation Group.

      For how we think through rhythms, you can check it out here:
      http://toddengstrom.com/2013/04/05/missional-community-practices-fitting-them-all-together/

      • Todd,
        Thank you for your response. I did not clearly state my thoughts earlier, haha. I meant that I had been raised with that line of classic evangelism thinking, but forgot to conclude that I have since (last 10 years) come to see that as a failed model. There is certainly a place for the public proclamation of the gospel, but there should be no pressure to “seal the deal” as if sharing the gospel is like selling a product. I used to operate in that way. At our Church (In Coeur d Alene, Idaho) we have started our missional communities (we call them Gospel Communities). We went through Brad House’s book “Community” with our leaders and are about 6 months into them. We have seen a great amount of people come to greater relationship with God & a greater desire to share the gospel around them, but are longing for more practical ways to reach out. I love your 3 levels. Family Meal, LTG, Third Place & an emphasis on not forsaking the corporate gatherings Sunday mornings. I will be tuning into more of your content. Thanks again for the response.

        Ryan

  3. Hey Todd. Paul Baldwin from River Valley (Mishawaka). I’m sitting here reading and writing at the Daily Grind coffee shop in Elkhart, Indiana. Not having an office (church planter with Renew Elkhart), I have camped here these past two months. Love it! I recognize that not everyone can work out of a coffee shop…but everyone can find a 3rd space. So doable. So natural, neutral and very easy to make regular) 2-3 times a week (YMCA, coffee shop, River Walk jogging, Deli….all regular 3rd space stops for me).

    Keep up the great work. You guys have been a huge ministry to our lil church family up here. 🙂 Paul

  4. Todd,

    We are developing a core group for a missional church plant. What book(s) would you recommend taking this group through so they can fully get the idea of a missional community? We are going to call our groups, “Go groups.” Our mission is to make disciples who make disciples.” Your input would be so appreciated.

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